THERE’S NO DOUBTING NOW THAT MULTI GLOBAL MEDALLIST JENNY SIMPSON BELONGS AT THE TOP TABLE WHEN IT COMES TO THE 1500m, WRITES STUART WEIR
Stuart Weir catches up with the multiple global 1500m medallist
JENNY SIMPSON’S admission is very honest. “You have to be a very intelligent racer when you run the 1500m. I did not know if I had what it took.”
Thankfully for the American, her coach Heather Burroughs persuaded her that she did – and a world gold over the distance in 2011, not to mention silver medals in 2013 and London this summer, as well as the small matter of an Olympic bronze in Rio, underline rather spectacularly just how accurate that judgement was.
Simpson’s career has been long and illustrious and is one in which she has shown herself to be competitive on the world stage from 800m to 5000m and on the track, road and cross country. She ran in the 3000m steeplechase in Beijing 2008, finishing ninth but setting an American record. In 2009 she was fifth in the event in the Berlin World Championships, taking almost 10 seconds off her own US record (at the time of writing, there is talk of this being upgraded to bronze). It proved to be a fateful year.
Simpson was primarily a steeplechaser but it was her run of 3:59.90 in the 1500m at the 2009 Prefontaine Classic, making her at that time the third-fastest female 1500m runner in US track and field history, which brought her to a crossroads. 3000m or 1500m?
“It was a very difficult decision but it
PICTURES: MARK SHEARMAN was something about which my coach was very confident. She had to do a bit of talking me into it,” Simpson says. “I knew I had the physical ability to excel at the event because I had run 3:59 before when I wasn’t even specialising in it. But you have to be a very intelligent racer when you run the 1500m. I did not know if I had what it took.
“But coach watched me in practice and she watched me work out with my teammates and she felt very confident that I did have what it took. So I credit her for seeing something in me that I did not immediately see in myself.”
World gold in Daegu changed everything. “Things in my career were never the same again – in a positive way,” she says.
The 2012 Olympics were a disappointment when she failed to make the final, finishing 11th in the semi-final in 4:06.89. Typically, however, Simpson found a positive to take from the experience.
“Winning the World Championships in 2011 was a bit unexpected because it was the first time I’d ever competed internationally in the 1500m,” says the 31-year-old. “And I was young – my first summer as a professional athlete – and having had that success it can be really hard to continue and out-do it the next year.
“It was hard getting ready for the Olympics and preparing for all the challenges involved in succeeding in 2012 with the pressure of being reigning world champion. It was a big disappointment but also a big growing experience, how to expect so much out of myself and how to deal with the reality of not delivering.”
Simpson clearly did learn and duly delivered in Moscow at the 2013 World Championships with a silver medal.
“It was really fun to return in 2013 and show the world that the success in 2011 was not a fluke and that I was going to be a real contender for the rest of my career,” she says.
While her ability to go under four minutes in 2009 was a huge moment in Simpson’s career, it was to be another five years before she dipped under that standard again, doing it three times in 2014, including 3:57.22 in Paris (making her the third-fastest American of all time). 2014 was arguably the strongest year of Simpson’s career. She won two Diamond League races, as well as taking two second places, a third and a fourth to win the Diamond League series.
Finishing 11th in the 2015 World Championships final was not in the script but, again, Simpson was to bounce back from a setback in style.
If you watch the Rio Olympics women’s 1500m final on YouTube, with half a lap to go you hear the commentator say “the medals are already decided” and Simpson is not even in shot. However, timing her finish like the experienced tactician she is, she surges through to take the bronze.
“When you win an Olympic medal, that is incredible but the reality of how you remember that entire year continues to form the further you get away from it,” she says. “The more I reflect on the year as a whole, it was a really challenging year and I will always remember the joy and excitement of getting the medal.
“But that victory was more hard fought than any other achievement of my entire career – in terms of having setbacks (through illness and injury), having to believe in myself and having to commit to a plan that I wasn’t sure was going to succeed as the clock was ticking and I was not making as much progress as I thought.”
Simpson’s next global final would bring another memorable finish. The women’s 1500m was arguably the race of London 2017. The records will show that the top four were separated by only 0.38 of a second but the stats alone perhaps don’t do the manner of the finale justice.
Simpson spotted a gap on the inside and charged through it to gain silver in 4:02.76 behind Faith Kipyegon.
“On that final stretch, I just thought I could win,” she recalled in the immediate aftermath of the race which saw Caster Semenya finish third and Laura Muir agonisingly fall short of a podium place.
“No one’s going to believe I’m doing this again,” she said. “It felt so amazing and it was kind of a surprisingly lucid final 300m for me. I tried to stay calm and then release the beast the last 80 metres or so.”
The icing on the cake for 2017 would a fifth successive win in the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York on September 10. Few would bet against it happening.
“WHEN YOU WIN AN OLYMPIC MEDAL, THAT IS INCREDIBLE BUT THE REALITY OF HOW YOU REMEMBER THAT ENTIRE YEAR CONTINUES TO FORM THE FURTHER YOU GET AWAY FROM IT” JENNY SIMPSON
Podium regular: after winning world 1500m gold in 2011, Jenny Simpson took silver in 2013 (right) and 2017
Middle-distance talent: Jenny Simpson’s PBs include a 3:57 1500m, 8:29 3000m, 14:56 5000m and 9:12 steeplechase